PULLMAN – For all the game plans, film studies and other preparation that goes into each football game, the Washington State Cougars would have you believe that a weather report is not included.
The multiday storm pounding the Pacific Northwest caused cancellations for South Sound prep football games on Friday are expected to continue on Saturday, producing wet, rainy conditions for WSU’s 7:30 p.m. game against UCLA.
When asked what way the slippery field might affect the pass rush, WSU outside linebackers coach Roy Manning said “nothing,” with a laugh.
Head coach Mike Leach said it was wind, more than rain, which might make an impact on a quarterback’s ability to throw the ball. But either way, the Cougars would not stray from their usual methods.
Of course, too much is at stake for WSU (3-2, 2-0 Pac-12) to not employ every tool at its disposal to mitigate whatever effects the bad weather might have. The team practiced with wet balls on Tuesday, and it is likely that the wide receivers will be wearing leather gloves on Saturday because of their superior grip in wet weather.
There have been games where adverse weather seemed to hold the Cougars down. After a downpour graced WSU’s 24-17 loss to Portland State in last year’s season opener, receiver Gabe Marks said his team “started to worry more about the conditions than the game at hand.”
Running back Gerard Wicks noted his “gloves were slippery.”
But some WSU teams have also played their best games in the worst conditions. In 2014, the Cougars came back from a 21-point deficit on the road at Utah despite heavy rain and heavier wind.
Of course, adverse weather should favor the home team, which gets to practice in the rain more frequently as the season progresses. According to box scores, UCLA last played in precipitation on Nov. 7, 2015.
Though, it must be acknowledged that UCLA faces its own climatological challenges, frequently playing in what its local stat crew dubs a “light haze.”
What should be particularly concerning for the Bruins in this game, however, is that the team is just not very well-equipped to deal with a game where swirling winds and wet balls neuter the passing game.
Consider the extreme example of Notre Dame’s loss at North Carolina State earlier this year in the midst of Hurricane Matthew. The Wolf Pack wisely attempted just 14 passes, completing seven in the entire game. The Irish tried to throw the ball 26 times, and were successful on just nine attempts.
The kickers also suffered, somewhat hilariously, in that game. But this, too, has little effect on a WSU team that has yet to make a field goal in 2016.
The Bruins are going to suffer more if the passing game becomes obsolete. UCLA’s most productive running back, Soso Jamabo, has 195 rushing yards. This would make him WSU’s fourth-leading rusher.
His 3.9 yards per carry are a full yard worse than Wicks, whose 4.9 yards per carry significantly trail teammates James Williams (7.0 yards per carry) and Jamal Morrow (6.2).
A turn to the ground game also benefits WSU because the Cougars rank No. 2 in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, despite having already played possibly the two most fearsome conference running backs in Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.
So while WSU fans who do not feel fashionable in ponchos may grumble about the weather on Saturday, they should also remember that more rain is better for WSU’s chances of emerging with a win.
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